The Little Engines That Could, Part 1: 1941-1942 Ford 30 HP Four Cylinder Truck Engine

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Welcome to Part 1 of an intermittent dive into the depths of automotive (and truck) history, outlining relatively small displacement engines that did a lot of work for where they were planted.

Up first is Ford.  With Ford currently offering a 2.7 liter V6 in their half-ton F-150, let’s look back a long time to when FDR was in the White House, Glenn Miller was on the radio, and Ford offered an exceptionally small engine in its trucks.

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Since dropping the BB four cylinder engine after 1934, Ford’s truck lineup had been strictly V8 powered, with the little V8-60 on the bottom of the heap.  But the V8-60 was destined to be phased out after 1940 by Ford’s new 226 cubic inch six cylinder, as the little V8 was just not well suited to American style use and expectations. It had an anemic torque curve, which made it a particularly poor fit for the heavier trucks.

Meanwhile, the new 226 six, rated at 90 hp, had a substantially healthier torque curve than the 221 V8. It would become the new base engine in Ford trucks, with the V8 optional, now rated at 95 hp. But the new six was not yet in production art the start of the 1941 model year, which is why it’s not mentioned in this brochure. It was available at some point later, although not many 1941 trucks were built with the 226.

Presumably to bridge the gap left by the departure of the V8-60 and the delayed availability of the six, and perhaps just to offer a high-economy engine for certain purposes, Ford also decided to offer a small economy four for 1941 and 1942 only.

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Taking the 119.5 cubic inch (2.0 liter) flathead four from its new 9N tractor, which was essentially half of the 239 inch Mercury V8, Ford offered this engine in half-, three-quarter, and one-ton trucks.  Ford did modify this engine for truck use.

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The four used a V8 style distributor, a fuel pump was included to negate the tractor’s gravity flow, and the engine governor was deleted. An updraft carburetor  was retained. It did have a better torque curve than the discontinued V8-60, peaking at 85 lb.ft at a tractor-like 1000 rpm, even if it was rated at a mere 30 horsepower.

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Dyno charts show that it actually made a whopping 34 hp at 2900 rpm! And for 1942, the little four got a pwer bump to 40 hp.

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This engine could be found in a host of different body styles and weight ratings in the brochure, but in reality it was apparently only installed in very small number of 1/2 ton pickups, a few 3/4 and one ton trucks, and on some panel and sedan deliveries.

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Actual production numbers are not readily available, but some sources suggest that only several hundred four cylinder trucks may have been built. And there’s some speculation that a few Ford passenger cars also were built with the little four, presumably special fleet orders like taxis. There are several still in existence like this 1941 pickup. Its story is here.

Did using this engine make sense?  Not in all applications, but it was adequate for some.  City deliveries, urban street maintenance, and a host of other ventures likely benefited from this fuel saving engine intended for non-highway speed applications. Rural roads back then were not designed for high speeds. Top speed in the 1/2 ton pickup was about 40 mph.

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Given that speed limits during WW2 were universally limited to 35 mph and gasoline was rationed, this engine was actually rather ideal for the duration of the war. Did Ford offer it in anticipation of that? By 1941, war was seeming rather more inevitable, and defense buildup and preparation was becoming an important part of the industry.

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The availability of the four-cylinder was short-lived.  When Ford resumed production of retail pickups in May 1945, the four-cylinder did not reappear from the war effort. Yet, for a brief moment in time during 1941 and 1942, one could get a new Ford pickup with their choice of four-, six-, or eight-cylinder power.